"Iraq's female health crisis"

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Friday, March 28, 2003 at 10:15PM :

Iraq's female health crisis
BBC world news

By Anna McDermott

There are fears over the health of Iraq's women

A UN agency preparing to help Iraqi women is warning that their health needs are being overlooked.

The Head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr Thoraya Obaid, a Saudi citizen born in Baghdad, told BBC News Online: "All too often the needs of women are neglected in the rush to provide relief.

"We must ensure that the needs of Iraqi women are fully addressed in our humanitarian response."

Two thousand new babies are born every day in Iraq.

UNFPA spokesperson William Ryan says: "This is a population in dire straits.

"Pregnancies are frequent and dangerous even without the disruption of a war.

"Women's health in Iraq has been so undermined by sanctions and conflict, that it's a dangerous situation."

All too often the needs of women are neglected in the rush to provide relief

Dr Thoraya Obaid, UNFPA
The Fund says pregnancy and birth complications are the leading causes of death for displaced women and girls in times of upheaval, as health information and services become less available.

Pam DeLargy, head of UNFPA's Humanitarian Response Unit says: "Over the past few months, we've shipped in equipment and supplies to make sure they're pre-positioned there."

Preparations underway

This week its officer in Baghdad moved some supplies from warehouses to clinics.

DeLargy said: "Thus far, there don't seem to be acute shortages but the problem is access.

"People are hesitant to go out and move around." If the conflict intensifies, community health workers will need to assist safe deliveries.

UNFPA are considering setting up a hotline to help family members guide a woman through delivery if they're unable to leave the house, which has worked well in Palestine.

One in five women, out of a total Iraqi population of 24 million, is of childbearing age.

On average, each woman bears five children.

Thousands moved out

UNFPA estimates 150,000 pregnant Iraqi women are likely to be displaced or badly affected by the war.

More than 20,000 women will need immediate help with high-risk pregnancies that require emergency care, such as caesareans.

The stress of conflict can also increase miscarriages and these women need treatment to avoid potentially fatal infections or later infertility.

DeLargy says: "Infertility is a serious problem for women socially or within the family - you want to avoid adding yet one more problem."

Death toll

Already in Iraq, 370 mothers die for every 100,000 live births - compared with 21 maternal deaths in developed countries.

More than one in 10 babies will not survive beyond five years, and 130 will die for every 1000 live births.

DeLargy says a quarter of babies have a dangerously low birth weight that will affect their health now and in the future.

UNFPA has worked in Iraq since 1972 providing training and supplies to meet the reproductive health needs of this very young population, with a large number of young women entering their childbearing years.

It is asking international donors for $5 million for the next six months work in Iraq, a modest sum DeLargy says, when compared with the $2.3bn UN appeal.

She's concerned so much of the world┐s resources focus on this region now and already sees other regions, such as the Congo or Liberia being neglected.

"We want these regions to continue to get support it's not an either or situation - all of them should be getting some support."

-- Sadie
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